When Bishop Thomas Molloy saw the need to create a new parish to meet the growing Catholic community of East Flatbush, he needed a man of deep faith and limitless energy to turn this vision into reality. So he called upon Father William Fischer to take on this herculean task. And when, on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 1926 – 83 years ago – Father Fischer celebrated the first Mass at the Chapel of the Little Flower on Avenue D and Troy Avenue, the seed was planted that would soon blossom into the dynamic parish of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Despite the Great Depression, groundbreaking for Little Flower School, the parochial grammar school, took place on October 1, 1939, but Father Fischer’s death on December 20th of that year prevented him from seeing the school doors open to students for the first time on January 22, 1941, when his vision was brought to completion by St. Therese’s second pastor, Monsignor Thomas Nummey.
The war years following the attack on Pearl Harbor were turbulent times as many young parishioners enlisted in the service of their country. Msgr. Nummey fell victim to a severe, incapacitating stroke in 1944 that turned the reins of the parish over to his assistant pastor, Father William O’Leary, who became parish administrator. Fr. O’Leary (whose energy earned him the nickname “the black blur”) initiated a capital campaign to raise funds for a supplementary school building and new convent to meet the needs of a burgeoning parish community. Additional parish societies were formed, a parish library created, and summer programs and field trips for the children established.
Father John Cross was named pastor of St. Therese in June, 1950, and established himself as both an authoritarian and compassionate shepherd. It was Fr, Cross’ penchant for pageantry that led to the creation of the annual Spring Festival, May Walks and Christmas Pageant. In 1961, he was elevated to the rank of “Monsignor” by Pope John XXIII, and set about trying to explain and incorporate the many changes authorized by the Second Vatican Council into everyday parish life and liturgy. As parishioners grappled with these changes – such as the vernacular Mass, sign of peace, and “folk Mass” guitar music – a different kind of turbulence from that of the war years ensued.
Msgr. Cross’ retirement in 1967 brought Fr. James Smyth to St. Therese as its new pastor, and it was during his administration that the St. Therese Parish Council was established, as required by new Vatican protocols. Fr. Smyth’s poor health made it necessary for him to retire in 1972 after serving for only 5 years as pastor. His death in the following year was mourned by the parish community.